You don’t have to be Catholic to love “Holy Ghost Bingo”

I went to Holy Ghost Bingo and I’m a convert! Not to Catholicism. My full name is Teme Weinstein Feldman Ring and I barely observe Yiddishkeit. But as one of the few Jews in the audience, I felt instantly connected sitting in the mock-up Catholic school classroom at the Royal George Theater last Sunday. Former nun Mrs. Mary Margaret O’Brien (a/k/a actor Liz Cloud) started the show with a roll call. Where are the Catholics? Is anyone Protestant? Where are the Presbyterians? Who is Methodist? I was wondering if we would be recognized. We were! My husband and I raised our hands when she inquired if people of the Jewish faith were in the audience. Mary Margaret smiled welcomingly. “The Jews invented guilt. The Catholics perfected it.” Bingo! I was home.

In case you were wondering, during her life at the convent Mrs. Mary Margaret O’Brien was known as Sister James Joseph Gregory Damascus Fortunatus Thousand Martyrs of Rome.

Liz Cloud as Mrs. Mary Margaret O'Brien
Liz Cloud as Mrs. Mary Margaret O’Brien

But now, Mrs. O’Brien presides over Holy Ghost Bingo: God, Goblins & Games, which is, yes, a show, but also a party for all who are fortunate enough to attend.

Mrs. O’Brien, despite wearing a combination nun’s habit/Halloween costume, proved to be an improv master and fabulous game show host. She riffed with warmth on Catholicism, Christian ritual and Halloween, and I learned a lot (there’s such thing as collectible saint cards and some of them are scary) as we progressed through four spirited (no pun intended) Bingo games and a series of lively interactive games which drew in even the most reticent audience members.

People who looked like they might not normally feel at home on stage became enthusiastic participants as they were called up on stage by the fabulous, funny former Sister to monitor Bingo calls, model hilariously creative, Biblically-inspired costumes (hopefully,  God has a sense of humor), play trivia games and win fun Halloween prizes. People who approached the stage shyly were drawn out by Liz so warmly and expertly that their own natural inner comedian emerged.

Inspired audience members
Inspired audience members

I was surprised by the revelation (no pun intended) that Holy Ghost Bingo’s warm, funny and relaxing atmosphere is such effective therapy, but it is. On the way to Halsted Street, I’d lamented (not a pun) to my husband that I only seem to be getting shyer with age. Social situations now feel only slightly less alien than they did in high school. But not at Holy Ghost Bingo where we were all instant family.

During one of the trivia games where you can score whether you know religion or not, I was surprised to hear a familiar lone voice shout out an answer that no one else in the audience seemed to know. “Get Out!” the voice boomed. It was in response to a horror film question and the answer was the recent Jordan Peele Oscar winner. But oh my God (no pun). That voice was mine and marked the first time in my life I’ve felt comfortable enough to shout out an answer in a crowd.

During the next part of the show, Mary Margaret asked for true ghost stories from the audience and several people volunteered. I love true ghost stories. I was so mesmerized that it only occurred to me later that I have a story of my own. I’m pretty sure my brave grandfather who saved our family during the Holocaust and who’s been gone for twenty years, visited me early this summer.  But I missed the opportunity to share the friendly spotlight and will have to wait to tell it.

During the fourth and last Bingo game, maybe it was the ghost stories, maybe it was all the good energy, but I had a strong premonition that I was going to win and get to select a prize. I knew what it would be. I was lusting (which is a sin) after the DVD of spooky Halloween movies for children. My kids are grown, but it was totally my speed. Instead, it was my husband who shouted “Bingo!” He tied for the win with another audience member. To decide who got which prize, Mary Margaret called them both up to the stage and tossed the prizes into the air. My husband got the DVD!  (Proving that he is wrong when he says, “You know, I CAN’T read your mind!”)

Vicki Quade
Vicki Quade

The show was over but as with all great parties, no one seemed to want to leave. The atmosphere was a testament to Liz and to the play’s author, playwright and actor Vicki Quade. Vicki was one of the original creators of Late Nite Catechism in 1993 at Chicago’s Live Bait Theater. The play became nationally renowned and Vicki has created many acclaimed and popular spin-offs, including this season’s Holy Ghost Bingo. Vicki, Liz, and Kathleen Puls Andrade will rotate the role of Mrs. Mary Margaret O’Brien throughout this show’s run.

We reluctantly left the theater and I realized that I was now a Halloween acolyte for once looking forward to the holiday. As Gayle King said on CBS This Morning last week, “I was a child who loved Halloween and became an adult who turns off the lights.” Exactly how I felt. But Holy Ghost Bingo unexpectedly turned that around. It was an afternoon of comedy, stories, and camaraderie, and an inspiring reminder of the fun to be had when you focus on life’s treats.


Holy Ghost Bingo is at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted, through November 10, 2019. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets and more details here.

Holy Ghost Bingo is a production of Nuns 4 Fun Entertainment, Inc.

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